Vivid biography of trailblazing astronomer Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin Life

In Vera Rubin: A Life, prolific science writers Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton provide a detailed, accessible overview of Rubin’s work, showing how she leveraged immense curiosity, profound intelligence, and novel technologies to help transform our understanding of the cosmos. But Rubin’s impact was not limited to her contributions to scientific knowledge. She also helped to transform scientific practice by promoting the careers of women researchers. Not content to be an inspiration, Rubin was a mentor and a champion. She advocated for hiring women faculty, inviting women speakers to major conferences, and honoring women with awards that were historically the exclusive province of men.

Rubin’s papers and correspondence yield vivid insights into her life and work, as she faced down gender discrimination and met the demands of family and research throughout a long and influential career. Deftly written, with both scientific experts and general readers in mind, Vera Rubin is a portrait of a woman with insatiable curiosity about the universe who never stopped asking questions and encouraging other women to do the same.

Starred Review in Publishers Weekly December 2020 – "Brims with insight ..."

Married astronomers Jacqueline and Simon Mitton offer a vivid biography of trailblazing astronomer Vera Rubin (1928–2016). Rubin’s work in the 1950s fueled discoveries in cosmology, extragalactic astronomy, and the mystery of dark matter, and opened the field to women scientists. The younger of two daughters in a close-knit Jewish family, Rubin was “naturally curious and observant” and fascinated by the stars. Despite a high school physics class run like “a big macho boys’ club,” Rubin earned a scholarship to Vassar College, where women held “the highest faculty positions in astronomy” and “the concept of women astronomers was normal.” In fellow physics student Bob Rubin, whom she married, Rubin found a partner who supported her professional choices as their family grew. Rubin’s master’s thesis, a study of the rotation rates of spiral galaxies, set the stage for her later work, which delivered data indicating dark matter must exist.

The authors present an accessible and concise history of modern astrophysics alongside the biography, which brims with insight into Rubin’s commitment to getting more women into astronomy and her deep fascination with the mysteries of the universe. Stargazers will be delighted by this spirited account. (February 11, 2021)

Vera Rubin: A Life by Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton. Belknap, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-674-91919-8

Praise for Vera Rubin: A Life

By far the most comprehensive review of Vera Rubin’s career and all the factors that shaped it. A must read.

Sandra Faber, astronomer and University Professor, University of California Observatories

This book is fascinating. We see Vera Rubin navigate a varied set of circumstances—in her family, in society, and in the scientific community—which culminated in a US National Observatory being named after her. It’s a story that will keep you reading, eagerly, to the last page.

Jay Pasachoff, author of The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium

I shall never forget the friendly, reassuring presence of Vera Rubin in the front row at my first presentation for the American Astronomical Society, when I was a graduate student. This superb book brings alive her grace and relentless study of the rotation curves of galaxies, as well as her push for women to succeed and excel in astronomy and astrophysics. This book firmly cements Rubin's place within the history of astronomy.

Carolyn Collins Petersen, author of The Discovery of the Universe

In this enchanting and engaging biography, Jacqueline and Simon Mitton have captured Vera Rubin’s exceptional life, unconventional career trajectory, and enduring scientific legacy. Rubin was an inspiring astronomer and human being whom I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know early in my career. This celebration of her work and life is most welcome and timely.

Priyamvada Natarajan, astrophysicist and author of Mapping the Heavens

From Crust to Core: A Chronicle of Deep Carbon Science

Crust to Core jacket

In From Crust to Core Simon Mitton vividly narrates the full, deep, history of the emergence and development of a new interdisciplinary field: deep carbon science. Why carbon? And why carbon in Earth's deep interior? That's because the element carbon plays a fundamental role on and within Earth. It forms the chemical backbone for all essential organic molecules produced by living organisms. Carbon-based fuels supply most of society's energy, and atmospheric carbon dioxide has a huge impact on Earth's climate.

This groundbreaking review traces four centuries of history during which the inner workings of the dynamic Earth were discovered. The remarkable scientific discoveries that changed our understanding of carbon on Earth forever are vividly recounted, : carbon's origin in exploding stars; the discovery of the internal heat source driving the Earth's carbon cycle; and the tectonic revolution. Written with an engaging narrative style and covering the scientific endeavours of 150 pioneers of deep geoscience.

In terms of its contribution to scholarship, From Crust to Core cites around 600 primary sources, many of which are unnoticed in earlier historical accounts of the geophysics and geochemistry of Earth's interior.

The backstory resonates with rejection and acceptance, or acceptance followed rejection as the duets choreographed by sceptics and enthusiasts.

Graduate students and early-career scientists working in the geosciences will welcome this introduction to the history of the discovery of the science of Earth's interior. The book artfully recounts the origin of carbon in the stars; its incorporation into Earth during the formation of the solar system; finding the age of the Earth and its source of internal heating; the tectonic revolution and its impact on the philosophy of science; the natural cycling of carbon from the interior to the surface and atmosphere, back into the interior; and the awesome discovery of the hot deep biosphere.

International acclaim for From Crust to Core: A Chronicle of Deep Carbon Science

A beautifully accessible history of geology told through the unique lens of how the element carbon cycles between different parts of the Earth.

Cin-Ty Lee, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA.

A very interesting narrative... Mitton has researched both the well-known and the less well-known personalities and anecdotes that bring the human element into the quest to discover how the Earth works.

Andrew Putnis, University of Münster, Germany.

Rarely have the challenges of geological research been exposed in such a broad context... Mitton puts us in the driver's seat with his lively skeches of scientists at work.

Claude Jaupart, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France.

From Crust to Core takes the reader on a wonderful trip through time, documenting the challenges and advances made by different generations of scientists to develop an understanding of Earth's processes.

Antonio Costa, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Bologna, Italy.

A delightfully refreshing contribution to charting the history of ideas into hopw and when the Earth was formed, and evolved into what we see today.

Chris Hawkesworth, University of St Andrews, UK.

From Crust to Core: A Chronicle of Deep Carbon Science. Cambridge, £34.99 $44.99 (380p) ISBN 978-1-108-42669-5